When I was in tenth grade, during the early 70’s – the Jesus Freak era – I belonged to an ecumenical church group. Comprised of young Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and Catholics, we met in each other’s homes and churches, studied both the Old and New Testaments, sang hymns, attended retreats and ‘witnessed’ at prayer meetings and church services, both locally and throughout the state.
This loose-knit circle of friends, bound by a youthful exuberance and our various religious indoctrinations, became known as Corn Flakes. One of the group’s charter members, Cindy, an easy going strawberry blond with a big smile and infectious laugh, commented on the letters CF printed at the top of a variety pack single serving box of Corn Flakes, cheerfully observing that CF also stood for Christian Faith. The name stuck.
All these years later, I still have the paperback Bible (with the words ‘The Way’ colorfully emblazoned on the cover) that I carried with me to prayer meetings and read from each night. Many of the greetings and salutations, scribbled on the blank front and back pages by my fellow Flakes and new friends that I’d met during spiritual forays to other churches, are barely discernible now. Flipping through the pages, I see via the chapter chart that I used then to track my progress of each book in the Bible, that I had successfully completed reading Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Job, Ecclesiastics, Song of Solomon, Jonah, Malachi, most of Ezekiel, parts of Psalms, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1st Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd and 3rd John, Jude and the first four chapters of Revelations.
During our weekly prayer meetings, we sat in a circle and sang favorite hymns like Amazing Grace, shared individual stories of faith and offered encouragement to those who struggled to keep on truckin’. Corn Flakes was occasionally invited to sing at church services and we travelled to other communities for weekend retreats to meet with other like-minded young people. Most of this activity was fairly mainstream (relative to my Catholic upbringing) although an outdoor gathering (vivid in my mind even today) of a young woman ‘speaking in tongues’ was a bit unsettling while a weekend retreat at a Baptist church where congregants were encouraged to come forward for a good old fashioned baptismal dunking was both odd and alluring (and yes – I complied with their invitation).
While my beliefs have evolved over time, bearing little or no resemblance to those heady days of Jesus-inspired religious fervor, I have fond memories of my Corn Flake years. Thanks to social media I have continued to maintain ties with many of the wonderful people I spent so much time with during my teenage years. Many of them still carry with them a strong faith and spirituality – two of them, one male and one female, are ministers – while some, like me, have changed their views or at the very least don’t use Facebook as a launching pad to broadcast their beliefs one way or another.
Music is a strong influence at any age but especially so when you are in your teens. I spent hours listening to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar and, to a lesser degree, Godspell. While I now consider myself an agnostic / secular humanist, I am still moved by this music. I believe this has somewhat to do with the emotional attachment of my early efforts to define who I was and what I believed in but mostly because the music is just so incredible. The melodies, vocals, instrumentals, lyrics and the mood of pieces such as Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) can still punch a hole in my gut and bring tears to my eyes. It’s the most powerful song on that album.
After listening for some time to the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar and trying to wrap my head around the mindset of the people who followed Jesus at that time and those who sought his crucifixion, I visited a Lutheran college bookstore in an effort to locate reading material to explain what the culture and social norms were at that time, how people thought back then and why. I remember wanting something non-religious, a secular approach (a phrase, however, that was not part of my vocabulary at that time) – not an explanation of events as depicted in the Bible but something rather that had no self-serving agenda. Basically, just the facts ma’am. I also recall thinking something about this whole Jesus Died on the Cross for Our Sins story just didn’t make sense to me. My then 10th grade mind also found the concept of imposing someone’s religious beliefs on others vis-à-vis the law as just not right. A lot to process when you’re only 15 years old.
So the roots of my eventual religious evolution coincided with my formative years while I was actively involved with an ecumenical church group. I actually find this incredibly amazing given that this examination of doctrine, of what I’d been taught in church – the belief system that was shared not only by my Corn Flake friends but my family, my peers, my community – was something that I questioned as a teen-ager without any of the influences we see today in the era of Instant Everything: news, information, social media, cable news, TV, movies and print journalism. On my own, of my own volition, I began to formulate ideas – ideas for which I felt guilty and not a little uneasy. Ideas that I tried to shout down in my mind with the mantras I’d been raised to know and regard as Truth.
The day would come though, in my late 40’s / early 50’s, when I would finally embrace that which I had tried to obscure from my very own consciousness for so long. What finally nudged me to accept that my views, my current beliefs, these ideas that had been running in the background of my mind for all these years – that all of this was valid and had merit – was after I read The DaVinci Code. While I understood the ‘fictionality’ of this runaway bestseller (not a terribly well written book, mind you), it got me thinking and wondering and it awakened in me all those doubts and questions from so many years ago.
I began to read books and watch documentaries about Christianity and Judaism and the history of these (and other) religions. My bookshelves are filled with books that I’ve read by religious scholars and both current and former ministers – some who were admittedly a bit militant whereas others were, like me, genuinely questioning all that they had been raised to believe was Right and True and Real.
What I found was not so much answers to my questions – in fact, I found very few for I believe there are many questions for which no one really knows the answers or the Truth (although they are quite adamant in believing and professing that they do) – but instead I discovered along the way others (many others, more and more all the time) who share my religious world view and more importantly, because of this, I felt liberated. I no longer felt that even though what I believed (or rather what I did not believe) was based on very honest and genuine ideas and views, I didn’t have to (nor did / do I!) feel guilty or uneasy for thinking that way. This alone was a tremendous relief.
I don’t expect my ‘religiously inclined’ family and friends to understand let alone accept where I’ve arrived at today in my Adventures in Free Thinking. And I won’t be surprised to discover that I may lose some Facebook friends or followers on my blog for making these views known. I would, however, ask those who know me and wish to comment, that you do so respectfully just as I will endeavor to return the favor in a respectful and forthright manner.
And for all my Corn Flake buddies out there, keep on truckin’!